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Heather Mills - Amputee Forum
dalec919

TSA needs change!

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Hey all, I know this is a long letter, but I suggest everyone that has concerns about the TSA screening process to send a letter to your Senators and Congressmen.

Senator Cornyn, I'm writing to you because I am very upset and frustrated with the Transportation Security Administration's handling of persons with disabilities in the US Airports.

Since my accident in February, which resulted in the loss of a leg, I have recovered to a functional level using a prosthetic leg so that I can walk. I am about 60% of the way to living a functional life again thanks to the wonderful medical system we have in our country. In a year I hope to be at 80%, which would be the maximum that I am told that I should expect.

We all see stories, pictures and images of people with assistive devices- arms, legs, hands, that show them doing the unthinkable activities like snow skiing, biking, skydiving, and the like. But I can attest that getting to where I am today is the hardest thing I have ever done. I speak as a retired Army officer and soldier and have experienced some very physically demanding events in my life.

So what’s this have to do with the TSA? In my opinion, the TSA is discriminating against disabled persons who require assistive devices. Whether the blind man with the cane, or the person who cannot hear the instructions as they enter the line, or the person like me, who depends on a prosthetic leg with a cane in order to make it through the security screening lines- we are all at a disadvantage when undergoing the TSA security process.

Only last month did I began to travel again. I took three trips, two in the US- Houston/Portland OR, Houston/Tucson and one overseas Houston/Geneva. Having spent some time researching travel for the disabled and participating in Blogs, I felt I was prepared for the "new" experience in traveling with a disability. As someone who had previously traveled a great deal, I was confident that a small delay would be in order, but that it would be reasonable. Man was I wrong!

I had taken advice from other amputees and so I wore shorts to the airport that would "announce" my prosthetic leg to the TSA right off the bat. While I had made a great effort to travel light, I still had my laptop, Iphone and other business electronics to deal with, as well as my liquids. Using a cane and balancing while I got these things ready was plenty of challenge, but was anticipated and I was ready. Of course there are the pushy people behind, and well the prosthetic leg if I get off balance or someone trips me- I'm down on the floor. Fortunately that didn’t happen. So everything is in the scanner and I walk up to the metal detector. The TSA person waves me to come forward. I smiled and pointed to my leg and said, "you know this is going to set it off", the person nodded and then said" you have to have your cane scanned, and then waited for another TSA person to take it from me and placed it in the scanner. "Sir can you come through without the cane?" I nodded, uncertain, but hobbled through, and of course set off the alarm of the metal detector. Then I was motioned to stand aside while he yelled "MALE ASSIST". I watched as my computer and cell phone were on the other side of the scanner. I am only fortunate that my wife was with me and made it over and secured my things, while I waited for the male assist. My cane was handed back to me having been scanned and then I was led to an area where I told to sit. The TSA person waved a wand with a cloth attached over my leg and then had me stand and spread my arms. My shorts have some small copper snaps on the pockets that apparently were setting the detector off, so then I was led to a booth, where I was asked to remove my pants so that he could see the top of my prosthetic leg socket and to have it tested for residuals. While the agent was polite, all of this took about 15 minutes of my time and made our getting to the gate a hurried event. I later learned that it is against TSA published procedures to have a disabled person remove any clothing.

In Portland for the return, things went slightly better, in fact the TSA person offered me a cane to use while mine was being scanned. The one odd issue was that one of the TSA was asking me "Is my leg a recent one? Is it bothering me today", which in fact the answer to both was yes. I can only assume that he was concerned that I was pulling at the top of my socket with my other hand occasionally as I went through the line. I still had to go through the whole routine of the male assist, the hand wand and the residue scan. 15 minutes while my wife waited patiently and collected my things.

In Tucson, things were different. There is a long line there to get the IDs checked, then after that about 50 yards to walk to the scanner. I was again wearing my shorts, and of course announced that I would be setting off the metal detector. They were much faster in getting a male assist there, but then its a smaller airport. The odd event there was that the TSA person did a full body pat down with the hand, right next the scanner in public. Good thing I am not sensitive about such things.

My most memorable TSA event however was in the Terminal E of Houston George Bush. That is the new and most modern of our vast airport, and it even has one of those new body scanning booths with "L3" proudly displayed above. I had the option of going through the L3 booth or the conventional metal detector. I was excited because I thought, finally, I wont have to have a male assist and full pat down. WRONG! After leaving the booth (again without my cane) I was asked to step aside. I was asked, sir what is in that your back pocket, it looks like a wallet. I said it is my wallet. I handed it to him for examination and he looked and handed it back. "Sir please step over here and have a seat". At this point I was perplexed, and inquired "What for" and the response was, you have on shoes, you aren't supposed to have on shoes". I was getting angry at this point and said, "Do you know how hard it is to take my shoes off while wearing this prosthetic? I didn’t have to remove them on any previous flight. If you are going to require me to remove my shoes, then you need a bench in the line for me to sit." His response was "Write your congressman." I later found out that its against TSA procedures to require a person wearing a prosthetic to remove their shoes. Training issue? Or just harassment?

In Geneva, I went through the scanner just like everyone else, along with my wife, my carry-ons. The funny thing was that I was waiting to get the pat down, the wand, etc, but the security person took one look at my leg and waived me through. That same airplane was flying to New York as were domestic flights from the US. None of them flew into any buildings, but was that due to our extravagant security procedures in the US? What about all the foreign planes flying in- why are they not a threat if their security is more lax?

So finally, all of this leads me to question the disabilities act, which guarantees rights to transportation in the US. Does that mean that I should also not be discriminated or targeted because I have a metal leg? In my military career as an Intelligence Officer, I valued security and the additional procedures necessary to protect our nation's military secrets. As a civilian, I value the need to protect us against terrorists. I am patient to the point of reality, yet question why the system is so inflexible and stoic.

There are some simple changes to procedures that could be put into effect that would make TSA security a much easier proposition for the disabled. A few possible solutions are:

1. At the ID check station, identify persons with disabilities, to include the type of disability, and request a male/female assist at that time. The assist will lead the disabled person to another line, possibly the one that the flight personnel use, and will assist the person with the luggage scan and perform any other required scans immediately following the securing of the luggage. This would enable the disabled person to not be concerned with the security of their personal items and would speed the process through airport security. It would also speed up the existing lines in that the non-disabled passengers would not be held up by the disabled passengers. Family members would accompany the disabled passenger.

2. Train TSA personnel on procedures (including politeness- I did not ask to be disabled!)

3. Institute an ID system that expedites passengers that are law abiding US citizens- we are not the threat! Use fingerprint readers for ID. Identify any disabilities in the profile so that TSA anticipates/understands the disability.

I appreciate your commitment to the country and our citizens. In your thoughts please remember that in an instant anyone can become disabled- whether it be you or a loved one. We need to take care of our own.

Thank you for your consideration to this concern. God Bless.

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This is an awesome letter. You covered so much of what everyone has to go through. Like you, I do my best to maintain my sense of humor. I am usually traveling in business clothes, I am bilateral below knee and many times travel alone. The pat down is embarassing. I do take a cane with me in case I need it and understand about everything you said. I tell them up front that I have prosthetics, I have only been told once to remove my shoes and I told him that I had prosthetics and that I did not have to do that because of that. He was like the 3rd person I saw and didn't know that I did and he simply got a wand to run over my shoes, no problem. I think my most embarassing moment was this: being bilateral, sometimes when you have large distances to cover..it's easier to use a wheelchair to get there. I did this in the Atlanta airport when my right leg was bothering me. They put me in the wheelchair and wheeled me to a line of about 9 elderly ladies and gentleman where I was supposed to patiently sit until they found someone to push me to my destination. For some reason, that got to me big time. I felt like I was some kind of disposable object that they would get to when they had time. I guess we've got alot of teaching to do on the part of the airlines, but they have alot of people who don't necessarily like their jobs and probably don't care. I guess it's up to all of us to make sure we know what is and isn't expected of us.

Thank you again for such a good letter....let us know what you hear back.

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Great letter Dale!

I am about to do my first traveling here in a few weeks and am trying to prepare for the worst.

It's good to know about our rights and how to properly train TSA agents that are not up to speed with the rules.

Thanks again! :biggrin:

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Good letter. I have to say I have never been treated disrespectfully. Before I go thru the metal detector I say I have a prosthetic leg, they call for female assist, ask if I would like to have a private screening, I say no and assume the position. It's just what I have to do.

I am planning a trip to Houston later this month so I was quite interested in your experience there. I have saved the info from the TSA site you posted and will keep a copy in my purse!

Thanks.

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Hi All:

I travel extensivly and have never had any problem that I percieved as a problem. In Canada, we have "priority" lanes of which I use and am glad about them.

I know what I am. I know who I am. I know my rights and I know what is to be expected. I, regardless of what happens to me, do not take offence nor objection to my state.

I am what I am and I accept that!!

I only wish that when they call for an "assist", that they call for whoever. I do not need just a man to pat me down and would be very open to getting the odd rub from a female!!! I am NOT fussy!!!

ED

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I've traveled quite a bit since losing my leg. I haven't had a problem yet. This past summer was my first time using the body scanner system. It did make going through security much easier for me. You are required to take your shoes off in this system or, in my case, be checked by hand. It wasn't a full wand, residue check, just a quick visual check of the prosthetic leg and feet. It was the fastest I've ever gone through security.

It is true that they cannot ask us to take our shoes off. It is our choice to use the body scanner system or go through the traditional security check.

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Back again- this time from Seattle. I had thought things there were going to be very good with TSA when they saw my cane, and took me straight to the front of the line. But then it got worse fast. I was dumped into an existing line at the front of the scanner, with no plastic trays, so I had to fumble to get my computer out, etc. I forgot to take off my jacket because of the rush, so that slowed the line down. Finally on the other side I had to wait by the scanner for at least five minutes and was trying to watch my iphone and computer since it was waiting on the other side and other passengers were already over there collecting their things. There was no help by the TSA to collect my personal items this time. They kept calling for a male assist, but there was only one TSA guy and there were two persons ahead of me. I waited in a booth another 5-10 minutes before someone showed up. Had it not been for my wife traveling with me to get my personal items, who knows what would have happened to my phone and laptop.

In Houston things had gone very well on the way out. There were no lines that day (Sat afternoon) and the TSA male assist did everything by the book. I think it really is just a crap shoot and depends on who is there, and if the lines are busy, and if they know what they are doing.

Eddie- there are no priority lanes here in the states for the handicapped. There are priority lanes in Houston for OnePass frequant flyers (which I am one) but that doesnt help other than shorten the wait through the line. I think there should be something that helps us through- and if Canada is doing it already, then its the system we need to try and model.

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Put the energy and letter writing to your politicians regarding Insurance Parity for Amputees. Don't compare Geneva with what happens here, last I checked Geneva is not currently at war and did not have a major terrorist attack on its country like the U.S.

And please.................don't compare Canada with the U.S. If you want their airport security, what's next? do you want their health care so you can wait months before receiving rehab, or more.

I travel every week and it sucks having to go through what we do. I go through MSP often and you have to go into a seperate room and get your leg x-rayed.

With as many nutjobs as there are out there we cannot take chances. Get to the airport early, deal with it or simply don't travel.

None of us asked for this but how would you feel getting on a plane and a guy/girl in front of you with an artifical leg with shoes on just walks on through.

I was suposse to travel the day of 9/11, that is until I turned on the news.

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I travel quite a bit with work and meetings. I always wonder what they will dream up this time. After I went to the ACA last year and heard the TSA reprep. Since then I am much clearer about the "rules" especially about not having to take off shoes. I have had to stand firm that I AM NOT going to take my shoes off, since it is not required. I ask to speak to their supervisor hoping at least that they know the rules. I travel alone most of the time and the Canadian security has been very good about procuring my effects while I go through the screening, it is not so with TSA.

I traveled to Asia this summer and security is good, but much more reasonable and saner.

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Put the energy and letter writing to your politicians regarding Insurance Parity for Amputees. Don't compare Geneva with what happens here, last I checked Geneva is not currently at war and did not have a major terrorist attack on its country like the U.S.

And please.................don't compare Canada with the U.S. If you want their airport security, what's next? do you want their health care so you can wait months before receiving rehab, or more.

On 9-11 two four jet airliners tragically were used by terrorists as a weapon against the US. They chose to use American planes due to the geographical convienence and because our security was very loose at that time. It was "easy" to do. My point about the security of planes coming from other countries is that they could just as easily be used as weapons against us, so if a terrorist today were to want to attack us, it would probably be flying in from another country.

So the question is does all the "additional measures" that TSA does really help protect us, or do it do more to antagonize travelers in the US? And as for those of us who have a prosthetic, could there not be some things done to make the process less abusive? Is it something I have to come to accept, the expectation that my journey to get to my plane will take on average 15 minutes longer than a normal person and that in the process I will be subjected to a " full body pat down", a rigorous scan with a metal detector that goes off even for snaps in my pants, and also the risk to my personal items- a laptop and an iPhone that is left unprotected on the other side of the scanner while I wait for a male assist?

Despite all the "security" at our airports, taking out liquids, etc,. the TSA is only effective in catching some of the possible items that can be used at threats. I know of a number of people that have forgotten to remove liquids, knifes and other forbidden items, and it made it through the scanners undetected. This has been proven in security tests done and several airports as well. There are also many other items that are permitted on an airline that can be used as weapons. A CD-ROM can be broken in half, and it is then a deadly knife that can be used to slask someones throat.

The single most important safeguard that was done to protect our flight safety and the repetition of 9-11 is the securing of the cabin doors on the planes. It takes away the power from the terrorists.

Terrorists doctrine is unpredicability. Who knows what or where they will strike, but it will probably not be using an airline next time. Do they scan everyone that carefully at the baseball stadiums? What about at concerts? What about the lines before the TSA scanners, whats to prevent a terrorist from getting in line with a backpack full of explosives that kills us all while we are standing in line before going thru the scanners?

And what about the "terrorists" that drive on the roads everyday- I mean the ones that fly by us in heavy traffic, following too close, weaving in and out. Like the one that hit me and took my leg. How many lives (and limbs) are taken a year on our roads, yet I rarely ever see one getting pulled over. I would feel much safer if we put a few more cops out on the street than more TSA in the airports.

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Recently just got back from flying out of my small hometown airport to Atlanta, Georgia. Leaving my local airport, I lucked out and got a real sweetheart of a lady on my way to my 6 am flight :) I advised her I had prosthetics. I had my purse with personal blackberry, work blackberry, Ipod, etc., brought along a cane that I sometimes need also. She proceeded to wand and rewand and wand and rewand me over and over again. Not even concentrating on my legs, haha. Kept moving me around,took forever. Putting my arms, up, down, checking waistband, asking me to unbutton top button on jeans,etc. :) It got to the point that people were feeling sorry for me because she was being loud and they knew she was way out of line. For the first time, I said something..I told her "don't you think you are being a bit ridiculous and by the way, you are checking the wrong parts". She then proceeded to touch my legs and she said "oh...I didn't realize that's what you meant" What the hell did she think prosthetics were? I swear, I think she thought prosthetics were implants of some kind, haha..what wasn't funny was that she refused to let me get my purse while all this was going on. That ticked me off. When you travel by yourself, you are at the mercy of security when it comes to personal items.

I hadn't been in the Atlanta airport since April or May and they have a new scanner there for braces and/or prosthetics. Not the kind you just walk through, but you stand up and you have to have a picture taken of your legs from every angle, which takes some time. They had just had 100 or so injured soldiers come through coming home from Iraq, so they had been busy. The women who checked me and took the pictures were great. The guys who are sitting there watching people and separating those with wheelchairs and canes are not. They make you put your purse and valuables through first, then expect you to sit/stand there while it goes through and you are waiting for someone to check you. Airports do a very good job of making people with special needs wait and wait and wait and feel pretty much like a 2nd class citizen. We have to keep our country safe, and I'm a HUGE supporter of that, but we need to work on getting some people skills taught to everyone who works at security. And don't ask me to put my personal articles through the xray machines until I am actually going through...ridiculous... Don't care how much or how little someone makes at a job. Have pride in your work and have some manners, and possibly take some classes in sensitivity.

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I just returned from a visit to Houston. I was kind of concerned about the Houston airport due to previous posts but I have to say it was a breeze. The assist asked if I was traveling alone, which I was, and she got all my things from the belt and put them in the little area with us. I was wanded, swabbed and patted down very politely and sent on my way. Thus far, no bad experiences with TSA :smile:

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